Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Maybe your house had a leak during the storm at the end of last week. Maybe it was a lot worse. The next morning, it was the smell that alerted you: a slight musty to begin with, just enough to hint at the presence of another life form. Soon the air will be swimming with “mold farts” because they are called a few timesan unbearable smell of damp rot. Or you spot a small, hairy patch of discoloration first, but then within hours it spreads and burrows deeper into the baseboard and wall. Even a penny-sized patch of mold contains millions of spores. Many of them are already in flight, because your nose will not let you forget. Mold can envelop every surface of a room – walls, floor, ceiling – in less than a week. Stachybotrys, the one everyone knows as “toxic black mold” is the wrong type – but in fact, many are poisonous, most produce allergens, and all are unhealthy guests. They bring headaches, nausea, joint pain. In addition to spores and farts, mold can give off poisonous gases and mycotoxins that can wreak havoc on the nervous system. Some people develop tremors. This can be disastrous for asthmatics and the immunocompromised.
Hurricane Ida last week brought immediate drowning danger, killing more than 50 people. Many luckier residents simply had their property ransacked. But the danger of the storm did not end there, because once the waters recede, these spores start to grow. And if you call for help this week, you might not be able to get it.
“It’s crazy right now. I must love ten people in ten different places at the same time since the storm, ”says Tal Saar, owner of New York Mold Specialist. “In all five boroughs, Connecticut and Jersey, we had five trucks at all times – on weekends, on vacations. Everything is reserved. People wait weeks for us to come. There are companies that say a month or two. Two to three weeks is good.
Tim Wong is in a similar situation. In a typical week, Wong, who runs Green Orchard Group, an environmental remediation company, could receive 20 calls. This week he had over 200. “It was crazy. Since Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, our division has not stopped working 24 hours a day, with all our equipment out. There is simply not enough material. You don’t have enough pumps, you don’t have enough dehumidifiers, you don’t have enough fans. And then you need manpower. Guys can only work so many hours, they already work 12 or 14 hour shifts, ”he says. “Thursday and part of Friday were really about getting rid of the water. And then Friday and the weekend were all about mold. “
Besides, he can’t wait. Even a day or two of damp in a small area can be enough to start a mold colony, especially in dark, damp areas like a basement or inside a wall. The silent threat sets in almost immediately. “It grows on wet structures,” says Liat Saar of Apex Mold Specialists in Brooklyn. “It could be wet Sheetrock, or the flooring, behind ceilings and walls. Sometimes it’s visible, but it also grows behind walls in dark areas where you can’t see it.
Technically, it is possible to prevent mold from starting to grow by quickly drying surfaces and using a dehumidifier to dry the air, according to Robert Weitz, CEO of RTK Environmental, a mold inspection company. He describes mold as “very opportunistic… 24 to 48 hours is a very short time when you have water in your basement. Often it is not even pumped that fast. And the humidity levels will be at 100 percent very quickly, ”he says. (High humidity can be enough to feed a mold monster, even if surfaces are no longer wet.) “When something like [Ida] happens, it’s such a nightmare, because the sanitation companies can’t get in fast enough, because they’re so supported, ”Weitz explains. ” Even if [a day or so later], mold is already growing on these surfaces.
Look around at the dodgy advice sites on the Internet, and there are plenty of home remedies: tape the mold, bleach it. But these are only superficial. “In a very small area, the bleach will help kill mold and visually make it look like it’s not there,” Weitz explains. “But the problem is, where does the mold come from?” You did nothing to clean the back of the surface or the wood structure behind this material. You did not clean the other side of the Sheetrock, which also got wet. And it is in a beautiful dark space, which will develop more mold, because mold likes dark spaces. The problem you need to solve is, why did he grow up? Why is he here?
So it’s probably best to see a professional, but problems can still arise even if you can get an appointment. Mold spores themselves aren’t the only opportunistic carpet pickers looking to dispose of the remains of a storm. According to Weitz, there is a subset of entrepreneurs who roam the country intermittently to chase storms. In the days following Ida’s coup, he spoke to a couple from Georgia and a contractor from Rochester. Some of them are good, but every year disaster victims get snooked by shady entrepreneurs both local and further afield “who want to get in and they want to rip, usually more than necessary.” They like to create a big bill. Liat Saar recommends investigating any mold mitigation company and making sure it is licensed. (For what it’s worth, Wong says there might not be a ton of non-local contractors coming right now to deal with the surge, as the storm has hit so many areas in more New York.)
Informed by reports of post-Sandy embezzlement (20,000 households were damaged by the storm), in 2015 New York State adopted a new law require licenses for mold treatment companies and, most importantly, require inspection and remediation to be carried out by separate companies. This stipulation “really took an industry that was essentially the Wild West and made it into something much more logical and rational,” Weitz says. “With Sandy, people were coming in, and a lot of them were coming from out of state as we see now. And they charged them to rebuild it too, before they dried up everything. Locked all the moisture inside, then there would be mold after they rebuilt it. Sandy’s lessons made insurers more likely to immediately cover invasive procedures. “Now when there’s water damage like this, the first thing they want to do is pull that Sheetrock out,” Weitz says.
New York State already has demand insurance companies to expedite the processing of storm claims, apparently having learned what Weitz and all mold inspectors know. “Mold is like a fire. It needs to be dealt with right away, or it will continue to accumulate. It will continue to spread. You have to turn it off.